1 Peter 2:25
For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
This letter is addressed to scattered strangers. But though locally separated, over wide lands, a handful here, a single soul there, they were in spirit united, and, seen truly, were a flock gathered round the one Shepherd. Long ago Peter had heard the great words, "Other sheep I have... them also I must bring,... and there shall be one flock, and one Shepherd." And in these Gentile Christians, thinly sown over the Asiatic peninsula, he sees the beginning of their fulfillment. They had been wandering sheep. They are now a flock; for the real dividing influence is sin, which drives us apart into the awful solitude of a self-absorbed life, and the real uniting power is Christ, in their common relation to whom men the most widely apart in place, race, condition, or culture, are brought into close union with each other. There is one flock because the sheep cluster round the one Shepherd. These two expressions - "Shepherd" and "Bishop" of souls - cover very much the same ground, but they set forth our Lord's relation under somewhat different aspects, each blessed, and suggesting different phases of encouragement and exhortation.
I. THE SHEPHERD OF SOULS. It is needless to trace this metaphor through the Old Testament, where it is employed to express the relation of Jehovah to Israel. The most familiar of all the psalms shows us a single devout soul appropriating the whole rest and blessedness of the thought for the nourishment of the individual life of trust. Isaiah's great prophecy of the Servant of the Lord proclaims the coming of Jehovah to feed his flock like a Shepherd. Ezekiel brings out more plainly still that not only Jehovah, but Jehovah's "servant David," is to be the Shepherd in a golden future. Zechariah's mysterious words add dark shades to the picture, and set forth Jehovah's Shepherd as smitten by Jehovah's appointment. And all these foreshadowings are interpreted and the scattered beams focused in the words which were as vivid in Peter's memory as when first spoken, and far better understood than then: "I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth his life for his sheep." It is remarkable that, with all this prophecy and teaching from our Lord himself, this text and one verse in Hebrews are the only places where the name is applied to him in the New Testament, especially when we remember how early and how universally the figure came to be employed in the succeeding periods. What aspects of our Lord's relation to us does it present? The ancient application of the metaphor, not only in Israel, but in other lands, was to kings and rulers; but we cannot confine the meaning thus. The twenty-third psalm and the tenth chapter of John give far deeper and tenderer thoughts than rule. There are mainly three ideas expressed.
1. The first is guidance. The shepherd leads. "When he puts forth his sheep he goeth before them." And under that thought is included all the shaping of outward life, for Christ is the Lord of providence, and the hands that were pierced for us hold the helm of the universe. But our text does not add, "of souls," without a deep meaning. It would have us see the operation of our Shepherd's care, not only nor chiefly in outward life. And therefore we must think of his guidance as mainly his leading of our souls in paths of righteousness, and "showing us that which is good." His recorded example, the touch of his hand on our wills, the sweet constraint of his love, the wisdom which directs breathed into the soul which lives in fellowship with him, and has silenced the loud voice of self that his voice may be heard, - these are the Shepherd's guidance of the sheep. His sceptre is a simple shepherd's staff. He says," Come, follow me;" and his sheep walk not in darkness, but have the light of life.
2. The second thought is guardianship. David learned to trust his Shepherd's care over him in dangers by meditating on his own hazarding his life against the "lion and the bear." Our Shepherd gives his life to drag us from the mouth of the lion. Body and soul are under his care. Himself may sometimes strike a straying sheep with his merciful rod, but he will let no foe touch us, and our sorrows are tokens of his care, not of their power. If we keep within hearing of his voice, sin, which is our only real enemy, will not harm us. Our docile submission is the correlative of his guidance, and our trust should answer to his defense. If he guard, let us press close to the shelter of his presence, and ever look for the benediction of his eye.
3. The third thought is provision. He will not lead where we must starve, but even in the most unpromising situations will show his flock some scattered blades of grass which they may crop. "Their pastures shall be in all high places, the very bareness of the mountain-tops yielding food. He himself is the Pasture as well as the Shepherd of the soul, and ever gives himself to satisfy the hunger of the human heart, which needs a changeless and perfect love, a personal truth, an all-commanding will to feed upon, else it aches with hunger. And for outward wants these too he remembers, and on the lowliest shore will kindle a fire of coals, and himself prepare food for his servants. So let us wait on the Shepherd of our souls, assured that his sheep never 'look up, and are not fed.'"
II. CHRIST THE BISHOP OF OUR SOULS. Undoubtedly the allusion here is to the bishop or elder of the early Church, with distinct reference to the etymological meaning of the word as well as to the functions of the officer. Looking to the later development of these, and to the associations which they have connected with the word, the marginal rendering of the Revised Version ("overseer") is perhaps better than "bishop." How closely the two ideas of "shepherd" and Church "overseer" are connected is clear from Paul's address to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20.), and from the exhortations in this Epistle (1 Peter 5:1, 7) to the elders to feed the flock, as well as from the universal use of "pastor" as a synonym. What aspects of Christ's relation are thus presented?
1. We have the great truth that he is himself the Source from which all Church officers draw at once their authority and their faculty. He gives all gifts to men, and sets them in his Church. If they forget that, and use their offices for themselves, or fancy that they originate the gifts which they but receive, they are usurpers. From him are they all. To him should they all live and serve. There is but one Authority and one Teacher in the Church; the rest are delegates. There is but one Fountain; the others are cisterns. "One is your Master, and all ye are brethren."
2. The original meaning of the word is "overseer," and that suggests the vigilant inspection which he exercises over his Church. The good Shepherd knows each sheep by name, and his watchful eye is on every one of the flock. The title is the condensation into one word of the solemn clause in the apocalyptic vision of the Christ in the midst of the golden lamps, which tells how "his eyes were as a flame of fire," and of the sevenfold "I know thy works," which heralds each message to the Churches. The thought has many sides, according to the spiritual condition of each. To Ephesus which has left its first love, to Sardis ready to die, to Laodicea sinking from lukewarmness to ice, it comes monitory, rebuking and putting to shame, though even in these the clear eye sees for the most part something to commend. To Smyrna, threatened with persecution and martyrdom, it brings courage and the assurance of a crown of life. To Philadelphia, which has kept his Word, it seals the joy of his approbation, which is reward indeed. So to us all, the thought that we walk ever in the light of his countenance and are searched by the flame of those eyes may be a gladness, as bringing the assurance of his perfect knowledge who loves as he knows, and is guided by it in all his care for us and gifts to us. "Search me, O Lord, and know my heart."
3. The thought that Christ discharges for each soul an office of which the elders in the Church is a shadow, may also be suggested. He teaches and he rules. All authority over and all illumination in our souls are his. And that not merely through men, nor only by the influence of his past life and death as recorded, but by a present and continual operation on our spirits. We have not only a Christ who lived and died, and so declared the Father, but a Christ who lives, and from his throne in the heavens is still declaring him to all listening loving hearts. The present activity of Christ is plainly implied here. Nor have we to think of him as only helping and teaching the collective body, but single souls. He is not here spoken of as the Shepherd of the flock and the Overseer of the Church, blessed as that truth is; but he is held forth as Shepherd and Bishop of each unit in the Church, for he sustains these relations to the individual, and will draw near to each of us, solitary and small, if we will only believe that by his stripes we are healed, and, conquered by his dying love, turn from our wanderings and couch trustful at his feet. - A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.